WE ARE now beginning to think seriously about career-long learning opportunities for all early-years staff. The BA early childhood studies degree course, which was offered in Strathclyde University for the first time in 1997, contributes to it.
The part-time course enables staff who are not teachers to continue working as they study for a degree. The first students have recently completed 60 Scotcat credits at Scottish degree level 2 (half of a conventional university year).
Links with existing and developing training routes are a key feature of the degree. It builds on the initial Higher National Certificate qualifications. It admits students with an HNC in childcare and education or an equivalent qualification into the second year of an undergraduate degree.
Demand for the course has been good and we have had no difficulty filling places. More than half of our first group of students had more than 10 years of working and nine were in positions of responsibility. They had worked in community nurseries, nursery schools and classes, primary schools and workplace nurseries.
We recognised that students would have an initial qualification and probably be experienced. Content had to build on and refine existing knowledge, skills and processes.
Equally important was the need to define the distinctive features and nature of a graduate-level course in early childhood studies. Deliberations on the nature of the knowledge, skills and processes required of early childhood professionals led to the development of five key strands within the degree:
* professional issues, skills and understandings; * curriculum studies; * young children's development and learning; * the social context of childhood; * elective area.
The first four strands were designed to provide a robust base of knowledge in early childhood studies and a context for developing the more sophisticated processes of analysis and reflection. The fifth strand was included to enable students to determine and pursue personal as well as professional goals during their degree programme.
Student evaluation of the course has been very positive and we feel confident that our degree programme is meeting the continuing professional development needs of this particular group of childcare staff. As one course member said at the start of the course, "if standards of childcare are to rise, then people like myself should be armed with the skills and knowledge to do the job".
Meeting the Childcare Challenge, the recent consultation paper on developing a strategy for Scotland, suggested a national recognition scheme for childcare arrangements. It would include developing a comprehensive, flexible framework for training and qualifications of staff to help set standards. We believe that such a framework should be developed, in collaboration with all concerned in the education and training of childcare staff in Scotland.
We suggest that the framework should be based on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework which is being developed for all post-16 awards and that it should include all of the awards currently available for childcare staff, including Scottish vocational qualifications. Such a framework would promote provide motivation for staff through a map of routes to achievement. It would also build credit links between awards, existing and new, and clarify issues of access, progression and learning demand.
The recruitment of new staff to work particularly with children in their early years - through the New Deal, extra FE courses, urban aid and through the employment of classroom assistants - has the potential to support the childcare strategy and early intervention initiatives. However, every opportunity should be taken to ensure that training for these new staff is within the proposed framework to underline the importance of quality standards of education and training for all early years staff. For example, an initial qualification requirement, such as HNC or SVQ 3, for classroom assistants would help employers map out routes to further achievement.
Developing a qualifications framework and routes for professional development presents a challenge, but one worth working for. After all, the quality of care and education offered to Scotland's children is at stake.
For further information about the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework and its application for early years staff contact Joan Menmuir (firstname.lastname@example.org) and for information about the BA degree contact Anne Hughes (email@example.com). Both work on the Jordanhill Campus of Strathclyde University